[KS] Gwageo cheongsan (Kwageon ch'eongsan)

T.N. Park tnpark at mac.com
Tue Sep 10 01:05:18 EDT 2002

Gari Keith Ledyard wrote:

> Interesting and stimulating, all this stuff on chengsan.  Most of
> the postings assume a negative connotation in the term, and I started out
> that way myself.  But as I got into the dozenth reponse, I took a look at
> the dictionary.  Chengsan's main meanings come from its being a technical
> term in accounting, and "liquidation," as in settling bankruptcy cases,
> certainly has a chilling tone when applied to the writing of history.
> But the dictionaries cite a special idiom when used with "kwake" (as usual
> with me, I use the diacriticless Yale system when on email).  Kim Minswu's
> dictionary, definition 3 reads as follows: Kwage uy motun il.ul kkaykkus.i
> ssise pelim (wash cleanly away everything from the past), and then adds in
> English, "atonement."  That certainly was somewhat of a disconnect for me,
> but then I checked the always reliable Yale dictionary, where Martin and
> Chang cite the sentence "kwakerul chengsan hako, say salam.i toyta"
> "Chengsan the past and become a new person." That's the way one might
> english the bare phrase.  But Martin and Chang are always good at getting
> just the right word; they say, "buries one's past (calls it quits with)
> and turns over a new leaf."  That definition ironically would seem to be
> exactly what Aidan wants to see, and goes some way to explaining Kim
> Minswu's at first puzzling "atonement." I would settle for "come to terms
> with the past and get on with it."

Forgive me if I make a point that has already been made, but the
Martin/Chang explanation ("burying one's past [call it quits with], and
turing over a new leaf") seems to fit with the idea as I have heard it used
in public here. Specifically, during the mid-1990s, when then-President Kim
Youngsam was explaining why he thought the nation would be better off
destroying the former Colonial Capitol (1926-1945) which later was used as
the ROK Capitol (from 1948 to the mid-1980s) and the National Museum (from
the late 1980s to the mid-1990s).

I am working from memory here, but I believe the Korea Herald and Korea
Times both translated the President's words by saying that razing the
building was necessary to "cleanse Korea's history" and to "set its history
right." Even if the term he used was not *kwagô ch'ôngsan* exactly, it
appears that such sentiments are shared with that term as it is used

As some have suggested here, the *kwagô ch'ôngsan* concept may originally
have been at the heart of a noble effort to allow to be heard dissenting
voices that had formerly been suppressed. However, in politics and in the
press, and thus in public discourse, the concept has taken on an ugly form
that seems more agenda-driven than anything else: selective focus or neglect
on points that will support the point-of-view of the group.

The term may not be a neologism in the sense of the word's creation, but
this new usage itself may be neologistic. Various "anti-isms" (e.g.,
anti-Japanesism, anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism, anti-leftism, and other
anti-xxx sentiments) are not just being appropriated by political and social
leaders, but are also being exacerbated by them and their groups to achieve
short-term ends. The fact that Lee Hoi-chang's father's alleged pro-Japanese
activities are an issue in the current presidential campaign, despite having
occurred some six decades ago, is an example of the power of such anti-isms.

Early in this discussion, I believe someone had suggested that the way the
term is being applied is not aimed at resolving these problems. I would
wholeheartedly agree. Resolving the problems would be antithetical to the
interests of those who are promoting certain anti-isms, which is to augment
support for them in the political and/or social arenas.

A Korean-born professor of mine at Yonsei University once remarked in a
Modern Korean History class that there were many things he can tell us about
Korean-Japanese relations in our English-language courses that he "would
never say" in his Korean-language lectures for fear of his job. His own
explanation was one that paralleled my own experience: by deviating from the
sanitized "history" that Koreans have learned in school -- even at the
university level -- he risked criticism that could go so far as the
demanding of his removal. We have had similar experiences in public radio
program content development.

This, I contend, is part of the result of such efforts to "cleanse" or "make
right" Korean history. It is a potentially dangerous trend that will result
in a squelching of dialogue, not the promotion of it.


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